Nature and Destruction on the computer
Nature | Cursor | Destruction
1. Hybrid | Metamedium | Chimera
Just as there was no fully development media theory before (or without) the computer, there was no fully developed human before (or without) technology. (p.196)Hardware/Software/Wetware, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
If Young’s statement is true, we must ask what the computer is in order to fully develop a media theory. Although there are many answers for what the computer is, I would like to focus on a computer scientist's, Alan Kay’s, idea--the computer is metamedium--because he is one of the fathers of the personal computer itself.
Every message is, in one sense or another, a simulation of some idea. It may be representational or abstract. The essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed, and viewed. Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. Moreover, this new "matamedium" is active --- it can respond to queries and experiments --- so that the messages may involve the learner in a two-way conversation. This property has never been available before except through the medium of an individual teacher. We think the implications are vast and compelling. (pp.393-394) Personal Dynamic Media, Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg
Kay defines the computer as a metamedium due to the fact that it can become any media if we can describe it in formal language. The computer can become the movie, TV, radio, paint tools and so on. When we translate a medium into the computer, we have to think about what the essence of that medium is. Therefore, we seriously have considered a medium itself only after the introduction of the computer. In this sense, Young’s statement is true.
Lev Manovich is inspired by Kay’s metamedium. He suggests that the computer is a hybrid. The computer doesn’t just put many media side by side on the display. The computer merges traditional media into one software; Manovich calls this “softwarization". As a result, this metamedium is totally something new. It is not multi-media but hybrid. Manovich writes that “in contrast, in hybrid media the languages of previously distinct media come together. They exchange properties, create new structures, and interact on the deepest layer.” According to Manovich, we use the computer as totally new media. He also quotes Kay’s. “A metamedium whose content would be a wide range of already-existing and not-yet-invented media.” Consequently, it might be said that the computer is metamedium which is a wide range of already-existing and not yet-invented media and this mixture of old and new make the computer the hybrid media.
The computer as the hybrid media in the deepest layer causes what changes in the image surface. In order to make clear this, I refer to Sølen Pold’s idea--the computer has chimerical quality.
One pioneer of computer graphics computer art, and semiotics, Frieder Nake, has described the computer as an instrument medium that we use instrumentally as a tool while communicating with it as a medium, thus it is both machine and mediation simultaneously. Following Naka's concept of the instrumental medium, the computer is a new kind of media-machine that mediates the instrumental or functional and functionalizes the representation becomes functional. This chimerical quality, though difficult to grasp from both a functional perspective (e.g., engineering) and from a media perspective (e.g., postmodern media studies and aesthetic theory) has become a standard mode of expression in software interfaces, with the button as a central element of expression. (pp.32-33) Button, Sølen Pold
Pold focuses on the icon on the display. The icon is not only the representational image for communication media, but also a set of tools like a “button” which we can push. Therefore, we watch and use the image as both media and tool simultaneously. Although media was only 'media' before the computer, media is not only media itself but also tools now.
Metamedium, hence, shows two characters: one is hybrid, the other chimera. Hybrid means many media merge into one in the deepest layer. And what is more, the hybrid creates the chimera in the image-surface layer--media and tools. Now we use the computer as a metamedium, thereby it means to accept the hybrid and chimera part of the computer in the deepest and surface layers. The computer has something weird for us in in its nature, the hybrid and the chimera.
2．Horizontal | Cursor | Vertical
Manovich and Pold overlook the cursor on the display. Why do Manovich and Pold pay no attention to the cursor on the display? One of the reasons is that it is like our hands. We naturally aren’t aware of our hands when we do something with them. Although it is natural to use tools and media with our hands separately, we have not yet experienced control of the metamedium which is both tool and media at the same time. We need other “hands” for metamedium, this is the cursor.
The cursor controls other images like icons. As Young writes, there is no media theory without the computer, I think there is no metamedium (theory) without the cursor. Although the cursor is a part of the metamedium because it is an essential part of the GUI, it can control the metamedium itself via pointing to icons or menus. The cursor is directly connected with the pointing devise like the mouse in order to bind the human and the computer together. We can, hence, easily point to the images on the display with the cursor.
The cursor is, of course, a stand-in for our hands with the mouse, but it is more than our hands because the cursor is always on the fore front of the display. Thus, the cursor easily points and brings a window to the front from many occupying the computer display. No images on the display overlay the cursor at any time. For this reason, the cursor is given the privileged position among all of the images. The cursor is just an image like other images but it is the only entity which can control them due to the privileged position on the display. Consequently the cursor in the image-surface layer is the not-yet-invented hand for the metamedium because of its privileged position.
Making clear the privileged role of the cursor on the image-surface layer, I would like to refer to Alexander Galloway's idea--Horizon vs Vertical in the Internet. Galloway writes that the Internet makes both non-central and hierarchic control systems which never existed without the computer. This chimerical quality of the Internet control system is composed of two systems: TCP/IP and DNS. TCP/IP shows a horizontal relationship which makes the free information stream for the computer. On the other hand, DNS introduces a vertical hierarchy into the non-central system which TCP/IP made in order to humanize the Internet; it converts IP address into domain names. The computer needs to make the free information stream in the horizontal connection for itself and humans needs to introduce the vertical hierarchy into the horizontal free information stream for their understanding. The Internet solves this contradictory problem about the free and hierarchical order between the computer and the human by introducing two axes: horizontal and vertical.
The cursor is the crossing between the horizontal axis and the vertical in the relation of the computer and the human. The cursor introduces into the vertical axis on the display and humanizes the computer. This arrow image can control the vertical order of windows due to its privileged position, the fore front on the display. Without the cursor, there is no hierarchic order on the display. Furthermore, the cursor translates the pointing action, which is the most primitive for the human, into the computer via the mouse. The cursor develops a free and hierarchic order in perviously impossible ways. The cursor is not only a part of the information stream but also controls it from the privilege position. It is a very ambiguous entity.
3．Destruction | DanmatsuMouse | Trans-trance
When destroying the mouse, Trembling cursor represents last statement of the mouse. Motion of the mouse and the cursor are recorded simultaneously. They will be replayed in parallel on your desktop. Device desperately crosses over the frame of the image. expanded moving image - DanmatsuMouse (Danmatsuma = last agony)
In the moment of destroying a computer mouse, the mouse as material and its cursor as data both leave a "last statement." DanmatsuMouse captures this statement by video camera and computer in parallel. By running the DamatsuMouse -program your computer, the image of destroying the mouse and the motion of the cursor will be replayed simultaneously on the desktop. The motion of cursor is replayed using cursor on you computer, so you have a simulated experience of the moment of destroying the mouse.
exonemo’s DanmatsuMouse gives us suggestions in order to make clear the ambiguous feature of the cursor. DanmatsuMouse is a very simple art work, just destroying the mouse which is connected with the cursor on the display via the computer. It is natural for us that the cursor moves right when we move the mouse to the right. Even if we try to destroy the mouse, the cursor moves when the mouse changes position due to the shock of breaking it.
Although the movie of destroying the mouse is a past event, the cursor is the present one because it is a part of the information stream in the man-machine interface. DanmatsuMouse shows us the complicated relationship between the movie and the interface or among the information, the image and the material.
We must remember here that the metamedium is made from simulations. There is only simulation which means it is not material but information. Many windows on the display are just simulations of media which lost their own materiality; thereby they become the hybrid and the chimera. However, the cursor has its own materiality because it is not a simulation for any media in the real world and it connects with the mouse. Of course, the cursor is just the information of coordinate points on the display, but it connects us to the computer via the mouse. In DanmatsuMouse, the cursor stops and passes away when the mouse is fully destroyed. However, the cursor is still at the fore front on the display and its shape has no change even though the mouse comes to pieces. The cursor is still alive. It shows that the cursor is not just the image or the material but a spiritual entity. As a result, the cursor is more than simulation and goes beyond the metamedium.
The reason the cursor is beyond the metamedium is that it is always at the forefront on the display. It is a natural feature of the cursor. The cursor in the air can jump beyond the border of the movie window and the computer environment. This means that the cursor freely goes and comes between the past and the present events. In consequence, we might say that the cursor is the ‘trans-’ entity. This means that the cursor is trans-metamedium.
There is one more thing about the cursor. In DanmatsuMouse, we feel something uncanny when our cursor is hacked. It is like we are no longer there on the display. We can’t do anything to use the computer. In short, we feel our lost self on the display. exonemo says; “When the cursor is lost, we feel the lost self. It is like a religious experience.” According to their comment, the cursor gives us not only trans-experience but also a trance-one too. The cursor is the the entity representative of our spirit for controlling the hybrid and the chimera in the metamedium. In short, the cursor is trans-trance-metamedium for the human.
The cursor puts the human in the informational hierarchy. It is superior to us in the information stream. It controls us. Before the computer, humans themselves were a kind of trans-media among the previous media. Now, the cursor absorbs the stream of human consciousness and becomes trans-trance-metamedium in the stream of information.